Tags: Geneva Linn
February 29, 2012 | 08:04 AMGENEVA — It was a good bet the Geneva Town Board was going to discuss and possibly act on a payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the Walworth County Alliance for Children during its work session on Thursday morning.
It was on the agenda for the 9 a.m. work session on Feb. 22.
But it just didn't happen.
Instead, town supervisors spent most of the meeting discussing another agenda item, specifically Ordinance No. 65 regarding charges for fire services.
Despite the Town Board's decision not to discuss the proposed WCAC PILOT, Paula Hocking, WCAC director, and alliance supporters, including former town chairman Dan Lauderdale, town board supervisor candidate Gene Decker, and town resident Cass Kordecki argued against a PILOT.
And instead of a discussion, the Town Board and WCAC supporters talked past each other.
Previously, Town Board Chairman Joe Kopecky had said that the town and WCAC must reach agreement on payment-in-lieu of taxes before the town issues WCAC a building permit for its new offices. Also, in previously arguing for a PILOT, Kopecky has said that the five-acre property, which is to be donated to the WCAC for $1 by the County Board, would be in need of town services, such as police, fire and ambulance.
"We have never needed to contact the police the fire department or an ambulance for the Child Advocacy Center," Hocking told the board at the Feb. 22 meeting.
But fees for service and PILOT are two different things.
A fee for service is a charge levied on residents, businesses and organizations who use a municipal benefit, such as the fire department.
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The PILOT is an annual fee negotiated between a municipality and a tax-exempt property owner. The payment is intended to supplement all or part of the levy the tax-exempt owner might have paid in property taxes.
WCAC supporters made it clear they didn't think WCAC should have to pay a PILOT.
Lauderdale argued that PILOTs are usually imposed to recover costs for water and sewer, but water and sewer is provided to the proposed WCAC site by the city of Elkhorn.
Elkhorn Ambulance is privately funded, Lauderdale said, and the town imposes a $500 fee on all false or mistaken fire calls within the town. Lauderdale also said that the Walworth County Sheriff's Department office might be willing to provide first response police protection.
Kordecki argued that the town was not losing any revenues because the property is already owned by the county and is not on the town tax rolls.
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After the meeting, Kopecky said that the town board is looking at both fees and payments as ways to help the town pay for fixed costs. He said the town's income is being squeezed between rising costs and state-imposed caps on property taxes.
Fees for service is a way to offset some of those costs, he said.
However, during the Town Board meeting, Kopecky said the town does not have enough information yet to even begin discussions about a WCAC PILOT. He said later that the item got on the agenda because the Town Board had discussed it at its regular meeting earlier this month.
WCAC still needs a certified survey map and the County Board must still confirm donation of the land. Then it must apply to the town for a building permit.
Town Board supervisors clearly favored charging fees for services. They just need to work out the details.
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Although the town has its own police department, it contracts with Lake Geneva and Elkhorn for fire service and with Elkhorn for ambulance service.
In fact, the town already imposes a $500 charge for false and mistaken fire alarms, although residents can appeal to the town board to waive the fee.
Several supervisors said they might favor tweaking the ordinance, giving residents and businesses one or two free false or mistaken fire calls. Of special concern was the 911 call made by a panicky child who might hear an alarm or smell smoke, only to learn later that the alarm was malfunctioning or the smoke was a bit of dinner left too long on the stove.
"We're teaching our kids in school to call 911," said Supervisor Larry Kulik. But if the child is wrong, the parents are slapped with a $500 fee. And that might have the impact of children being told not to call 911, he said.
Decker warned the supervisors that they were on a slippery slope of fees for service.
"Where you're going is, we take the $900,000 for emergency services out of the budget" and then charge residents the real cost of an emergency run, he said.
"A fire is $4,000," Decker said. "That's where you're going."
"That's horrible," replied Kopecky. "I don't know why you're suggesting it. That's political suicide."
The board adjourned without coming to a decision on fire department fees, or discussing a PILOT agreement.
Kopecky has faced criticism for his past comment that he wants a PILOT agreement with WCAC before the town issues the required building permit.
Kopecky has replied that he's not against WCAC and that he recognizes the child protection services affords the communities of Walworth County.
If there is an objection, it is to the County Board's decision to deed five acres to the WCAC.
"Why require five acres of land for a 4,300-square-foot building," Kopecky asked. "It's insane."
Kopecky, an architect by profession, said one acre would have been enough.
Although current zoning requires a five-acre lot for new construction, Kopecky said the county and city of Elkhorn should have worked out an agreement that would have led to a better use of county land.
WCAC, which provides child protective and child abuse investigation services to 17 law enforcement agencies in Walworth County, including the town of Geneva, is a private, nonprofit organization.
WCAC currently operates out of three rooms in the Walworth County Health and Human Services building at W4051 Highway NN, Elkhorn. The prpoposed site for the new WCAC building is next door to the HHS building.